Fire up for the Fourth

On Monday night, I did a little prep work for the upcoming Independence Day holiday. (I know everybody calls it the Fourth of July, but that really is the official name of the holiday!)

I made sure my red-white-and blue plaid shorts were clean. I would have made sure they were pressed, too, except that I’m boycotting ironing at the moment.

On the bed in our guest bedroom, I laid out some of my other Fourth of July necessities: a package of rocket balloons (a safer alternative to fireworks) with which to entertain great-nephew Mason and great-niece Millie at tonight’s pre-Fourth family picnic; a pair of silly patriotic glasses; and an even sillier set of head-boppers.

That last item consists of a headband with two antennae, topped with stars and spangling with red-white-and-blue streamers. For several years now, I’ve made it a tradition to don this wacky headgear at our annual gathering with friends in advance of the fireworks. Yes, it draws some sidelong glances and outright strange looks, but there’s something about the Fourth of July that brings out the kid in me. And what’s a little embarrassment among friends?

After last year, I thought the tradition was over when I lost one of the boppers on the walk home.

But fear not! I found a spare set hidden in a dresser, so I will continue to be fully outfitted for the occasion.

I may have my wardrobe for the Fourth figured out, but not my menu. The usual round of holiday weekend gatherings means I need to come up with a few things to tote to the various functions. What to bring? An appetizer? A salad? A dessert?

Here are ideas for one of each, in case you are also struggling with the same dilemma.

Firecracker Crackers

Combine 1 cup canola oil, 1 packet Fiesta Ranch dressing mix and 2 tablespoons red pepper flakes.

Place 4 sleeves saltine crackers in a large bowl and cover with oil mixture. Toss gently to coat.

Lay crackers out on a cookie sheet. Pour any oil mixture remaining in the bowl over the top.

Bake at 250 degrees for 20 minutes, stirring about halfway through. Let cool, Store in an airtight bag or container.

Red, White & Bleu Slaw

For dressing, combine ½ cup plain yogurt, 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons mayonnaise or salad dressing and 2 teaspoons sugar. Add salt and pepper to taste.

In a large bowl, combine one 14-ounce bag coleslaw mix, 12 cherry tomatoes, cut in half and ½ cup bleu cheese crumbles. Stir to combine. Just before serving, add in ½ cup crumbled bacon and sprinkle another ¼ cup blue cheese on top.

Patriotic Ice Cream Pie

For crust, in a food processor combine 1½ cups slivered almonds, 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar, and ½ teaspoon salt; pulse to form coarse crumbs. Stir in 3 tablespoons melted butter. Press onto bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie plate to form an even layer. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes, until lightly golden.

In a saucepan, combine 3 cups blueberries, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon cornstarch, ¼ teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, 2 teaspoons lemon juice and 1 tablespoon water. Stir well to blend. Cook over medium heat until berries begin to pop and give off juice. Simmer, stirring gently, for 1 minute, until sauce is lightly thickened. Set aside to cool; refrigerate until completely chilled.

Soften 1½ quarts vanilla ice cream. Spoon half of the ice cream into the crust. Spread ¾ cup of the chilled blueberry sauce over the top in an even layer. Spoon remaining ice cream over top, spreading to the edges.

Cover with plastic wrap and freeze at least 8 hours until firmly set.

Before serving, spread whipped topping over pie. Top with a mixture of fresh blueberries, strawberries and raspberries. Serve with remaining blueberry sauce on the side.

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